Parens Patriae Standing Argument Scrambled (California Egg Producer Standard)


On November 16, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decided the case of State of Missouri ex rel. Chris Koster, et al., v. Harris, in which it largely affirmed the lower court’s decision that the States of Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Alabama, Kentucky and Iowa lack standing to challenge the California laws and policies that mandate that no eggs can be sold in California that are the produced in states that do not adhere to California’s conditions under which chickens must be kept. One lesson to draw from this is that it’s very difficult to persuade the courts that the Commerce Clause always limits what the state legislatures can do.

Proposition 2 was approved by the voters of California in 2008. It created new standards for housing farm animals effective on January 1, 2015, and was supplemented by legislation that prohibited the sale of eggs in California that were produced by hens confined in a farm or a place that did not comply with California’s new animal care standards. The several states challenged these policies, contending that they violate the Commerce Clause and are preempted by federal law.

The lower court and the Ninth Circuit agreed that the plaintiffs did not satisfy the requirements of parens patriae standing in that they were unable to show they had an articulable interest greater than the narrow interests of a private party (i.e., the egg producers in their sates). Those producers could have filed their own lawsuit, which so far they have not done. The Ninth Circuit, however, reversed the lower court’s dismissal of the complaint with prejudice, because the plaintiffs should have an opportunity to submit any new evidence that supports their standing.